There was such a good response to the article on the Hubble that I published on April 27th that it was an easy decision to republish the article that was presented on the BBC website on the 24th, and this time the photographs can be downloaded.
By Jonathan Amos, Science correspondent, 24 April 2020
It’s 30 years ago to the day that the Hubble telescope was launched – and to celebrate its birthday, the veteran observatory has produced another astonishing image of the cosmos.
This one is of a star-forming region close to our Milky Way Galaxy, about 163,000 light-years from Earth.
The larger object is the nebula NGC 2014; its companion is called NGC 2020.
But astronomers have nicknamed the scene the “Cosmic Reef” because it resembles an undersea world.
[There is an audio by Antonella Nota that is a little under 10 minutes long. I cannot embed it into this post for some unclear reason. Go here if you want to listen to it! It’s well worth listening to.]
Antonella Nota: “It’s called the people’s telescope because it brought the Universe to the people”
Famously blighted by blurred vision at the outset of its mission in 1990, Hubble was eventually repaired and upgraded.
The remarkable pictures it has taken of planets, stars, and galaxies have transformed our view of the cosmos.
Indeed, there are those who think Hubble is the most important scientific tool ever built.
It’s still far from retirement.
The US space agency (Nasa), which runs the observatory in partnership with the European Space Agency (Esa), says operations will be funded for as long as they remain productive.
Last year, its data resulted in almost 1,000 scientific papers being published – so it continues to stand at the forefront of discovery.
Engineers obviously keep a watching brief on the health of Hubble’s various systems. Pleasingly, all four instruments onboard – the two imagers and two spectrographs – work at full tilt.
In the past, the telescope’s Achilles heel has been the six gyroscopes that help turn and point the facility, maintaining a rock-steady gaze at targets on the sky.
These devices have periodically failed down the years, and during their final servicing mission in 2009 space shuttle astronauts were tasked with replacing all six.
Three have subsequently shut down again, but Nasa project scientist Dr Jennifer Wiseman says this is not yet an issue for serious concern.
“Nominally, we need three gyroscopes, but we can operate on just one due to the ingenuity of the engineers,” she asserted.
There’s a quiet confidence that Hubble can keep working well into the 2020s. Its supposed “successor” – the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) – is due for launch next year, but the presence in orbit of this more modern observatory will in truth merely just extend capability; it won’t make Hubble redundant.
That’s because the new facility has been designed to see the cosmos at longer wavelengths of light than Hubble. The duo will be complementary and will on occasion actually pursue targets together to get a fuller perspective.
This is an exciting prospect for astronomers everywhere – but especially for those in Europe where Hubble has been such a rewarding endeavour, says Esa project scientist Dr Antonella Nota.
“From the memorandum of understanding there was a guarantee that European astronomers would get 15% of observing time for the duration of the mission. If I look back at how much time European astronomers got – on average it’s 22%. And it is a peer-reviewed process so we never needed to put a finger on the scales. European astronomers are creative; they’re smart; they’re doing leading-edge science,” she told BBC News.
What has Hubble contributed to science?
It’s a bit of a cliche, but Hubble has truly been a “discovery machine”.
Before the telescope launched in 1990, astronomers didn’t know whether the Universe was 10 billion years old or 20 billion years old.
Hubble’s survey of pulsating stars narrowed the uncertainty, and we now know the age extremely well, at 13.8 billion.
The observatory played a central role in revealing the accelerating expansion of the cosmos – a Nobel Prize-winning breakthrough – and it provided the definitive evidence for the existence of super-massive black holes at the centre of galaxies.
It’s amazing to think that when Hubble launched, scientists had yet to detect the first exoplanet, the name given to a planet orbiting a star other than our Sun. Today, Hubble is pioneering the study of these far-off worlds, examining their atmospheres to try to gauge their nature.
And although the sparkling eight-metre-class ground-based telescopes can now match – and even exceed – Hubble’s skill in certain fields of study, the space telescope remains peerless in going super-deep.
Its so-called Deep Field observations in which it stared at a small patch of sky for days on end to identify the existence of very distant, extremely faint galaxies is one of the towering achievements in astronomy.
These studies have shown us what the Universe was like just a few hundred million years after the Big Bang. Only JWST, with its finely-tuned infrared detectors, will go deeper still.
Kathryn Sullivan was one of the astronauts onboard Space Shuttle Discovery when it released Hubble into its 612km-high orbit on 25 April, 1990 – a day she recounts in a recent book, Handprints On Hubble.
“Hubble’s scientific impact has just been immense. But what I had not really appreciated until I started writing my book was the extent to which Hubble – because of its gorgeous images and their mind-bending implications – has really permeated popular culture,” she told BBC News.
“I see Hubble on the side of U-Haul (rental) trailers, on tattoos, on lunchboxes, on shirts, in advertisements, almost ubiquitously.
“And I think part of that is down to Hubble coming into service just as the internet was becoming the thing we now know it to be.
“That’s put the pictures right in front of people.”
This is the most amazing invention and regular missions to service the telescope including regular updates to the technology have kept it current.
It has produced the most distant and beautiful photographs. It has also refined our knowledge of when the universe came into existence – 13.8 billion years ago.
Interesting article about calculating a dog’s age.
It’s a well-known ‘calculation’ that a dog’s age is seven years for every human year. But it’s wrong; the scientific result is more complex.
But rather than me say it, I’ll hand it over to Christian Yates of the BBC who on the 6th January this year published an article on this subject.
Your pet clearly ages faster than you do, but new research is giving us a much clearer idea of just how old your dog really might be.
By Christian Yates, January 6th, 2020
If your dog has been alive and kicking its paws about for a decade, the widely held belief is it has aged as much as a human would have done over 70 years. This conversion factor – each year of a dog’s life accounting for seven human years – comes from dividing human life expectancy of around 77 by the canine life expectancy of around 11.
The underlying assumption is that each calendar year a dog lives through is equivalent to seven human years at any stage of a dog’s life. But new research suggests that things aren’t so simple. And if we look at some basic developmental milestones, it’s clear why.
For example, most dog breeds reach sexual maturity between the ages of six and 12 months – the upper end of that range corresponding, by the traditional conversion, to a human age of seven. And at the other end of the spectrum, although unusual, some dogs have been known to live for over 20 years. Under the “factor-of-seven” conversion rule, this would equate to an unfathomable 140 human-equivalent years.
To make matters more complicated, dogs’ life expectancy depends significantly on the breed. Smaller dogs tend to live significantly longer, suggesting that they age more slowly than bigger dogs.
All of this raises the question of what exactly we mean by age. The most obvious way to describe it is simply the length of time that has passed since birth. This is known as the chronological definition of age.
When it comes to comparing animal ages across species, the biological definitions of age are far more useful than their chronological counterparts
However, there are other descriptions. Biological age, for example, is a more subjective definition, which relies on assessing physiological indicators to identify an individual’s development. These include measures like the “frailty index” – surveys that take into account an individual’s disease status, cognitive impairments and levels of activity.
For example, if you’ve spent a lot of time eating junk food and smoking cigarettes instead of taking exercise and eating healthily, the chances are your biological age will exceed your chronological age. Or, you might be a 60-year-old with the body of a 40-year-old if you’ve looked after yourself well.
A dog’s life
When it comes to comparing animal ages across species, the biological definitions of age are far more useful than their chronological counterparts. Knowing a hamster is six weeks old doesn’t give you a good picture of that animal’s life stage, even if you know the life expectancy of a hamster is only three years. Learning that a hamster has reached an age where it can reproduce gives a much better picture of its level of maturity.
In particular, “methylation” – the addition of methyl groups (a carbon atom bonded to three hydrogen atoms) to DNA – seems to be a good indicator of age. Many prominent physiological markers, such as the development of teeth, seem to occur at the same levels of methylation across different species. So by matching the levels of methylation in Labrador retrievers and humans, the researchers derived a formula to map dog age to its human equivalent.
That formula is: human equivalent age = 16 x ln(dog’s chronological age) + 31.
Here “ln” represents a mathematical function known as the natural logarithm. The logarithm function is well-known in the non-linear scales for energy released during earthquakes (Richter) or for measuring sound (decibels). It comes in useful for measuring quantities whose sizes vary over many orders of magnitude. It’s even possible that a logarithmic experience of the passing of time might explain why we perceive time speeding up as we get older.
A handy short cut is to remember that the first dog year counts for 31 human years
In the graph below, you can see how the natural logarithm works to convert the years a dog has lived (dog age) into the equivalent human age in the red dashed curve. The curve suggests that dogs mature extremely rapidly at first, but that their ageing then slows down, meaning that most of their lives are experienced as a form of protracted middle age.
A handy short cut is to remember that the first dog year counts for 31 human years. Then, after that, every time the dog’s chronological age doubles, the number of equivalent human years increases by 11. So eight calendar years represents three “doublings” (from one to two, two to four and then four to eight) giving a dog age equivalent of 64 (that’s 31 + 3×11).
This useful approximation is plotted as the black curve on the conversion figure below. The green line represents the discredited factor-of-seven rule that suggests unrealistic ages at the higher end of the dog age spectrum.
Most dog lovers will already have suspected that the human-to-dog age relationship is non-linear, having noticed that, initially, their pets mature much more quickly than the linear factor-of-seven rule suggests.
A more sophisticated refinement to the factor-of-seven rules has suggested that each of the dog’s first two years correspond to 12 human years while all subsequent years count for four human equivalents. The blue curve in the above figure, which represents this ad hoc rule, shows better agreement with the new logarithmic law.
In practice the new molecular insights into human-to-dog age conversion encapsulated by the logarithmic law suggest that dogs move into middle age even more rapidly than most dog-owners would have suspected. It’s worth bearing in mind, when you find that Rex is reluctant to chase the ball like he once did, that he’s probably got more miles on the clock than you’ve been giving him credit for.
Christian Yates is a senior lecturer in mathematical biology at the University of Bath. He is also the author of The Maths of Life and Death.
This articleoriginally appearedon The Conversation, and is republished under a Creative Commons licence.
I don’t know about you but I found this article extremely interesting.
The California assembly member who introduced the legislation, Patrick O’Donnell, has insisted the legislation is not just “a big win” for “four-legged friends”, but for California taxpayers too, as they spend hundreds of millions on sheltering animals across the state.
On the back of yesterday’s article about dogs obtaining protein from eating soldier ants comes another piece from the BBC about fibre. It has much information some of which I hadn’t come across before.
So it’s another share with you.
The lifesaving food 90% aren’t eating enough of.
By James Gallagher, Health and science correspondent, BBC News
January 11th, 2019.
If I offered you a superfood that would make you live longer, would you be interested?
Naturally it reduces the chances of debilitating heart attacks and strokes as well as life-long diseases such as type-2 diabetes.
And it helps keep your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels down.
I should mention it’s cheap and widely available in the supermarket.
What is it?
Fibre – it’s not the sexiest thing in the world but a major study has been investigating how much fibre we really need to be eating and found there are huge health benefits.
“The evidence is now overwhelming and this is a game-changer that people have to start doing something about it,” one of the researchers, Prof John Cummings, tells BBC News.
It’s well known for stopping constipation – but its health benefits are much broader than that.
How much fibre do we need?
The researchers, at the University of Otago, in New Zealand, and the University of Dundee say people should be eating a minimum of 25g of fibre per day.
But they call this an “adequate” amount for improving health and say there are benefits for pushing past 30g (1oz).
Is that all?
Well, a banana on its own weighs about 120g but that’s not pure fibre. Strip out everything else including all the natural sugars and water, and you’re left with only about 3g of fibre.
Most people around the world are eating less than 20g of fibre a day.
And in the UK, fewer than one in 10 adults eats 30g of fibre daily.
On average, women consume about 17g, and men 21g, a day.
What other foods have more fibre in them?
You find it in fruit and vegetables, some breakfast cereals, breads and pasta that use whole-grains, pulses such as beans, lentils and chickpeas, as well as nuts and seeds.
Elaine Rush, a professor of nutrition at Auckland University of Technology, has put together this example for getting into the 25-30g camp:
half a cup of rolled oats – 9g fibre | two Weetabix – 3g fibre | a thick slice of brown bread – 2g fibre | a cup of cooked lentils – 4g fibre | a potato cooked with the skin on – 2g fibre | half a cup of chard (or silverbeet in New Zealand) – 1g fibre | a carrot – 3g fibre | an apple with the skin on – 4g fibre
But she says: “It is not easy to increase fibre in the diet.”
Prof Cummings agrees. “It’s a big change for people,” he says. “It’s quite a challenge.”
cooking potatoes with the skin on | swapping white bread, pasta and rice for wholemeal versions | choosing high-fibre breakfast cereals such as porridge oats | chucking some chickpeas, beans or lentils in a curry or over a salad| having nuts or fresh fruit for snacks or dessert | consuming at least five portions of fruit or vegetables each day
Well, after analysing 185 studies and 58 clinical trials, the results are in and have been published in the Lancet medical journal.
It suggests if you shifted 1,000 people from a low fibre diet (less than 15g) to a high-fibre one (25-29g), then it would prevent 13 deaths and six cases of heart disease.
That’s during the course of these studies, which tended to follow people for one to two decades.
It also showed lower levels of type-2 diabetes and bowel cancer as well as lower weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
And the more fibre people ate, the better.
What is fibre doing in the body?
There used to be a view that fibre didn’t do much at all – that the human body could not digest it and it just sailed through.
But fibre makes us feel full and affects the way fat is absorbed in the small intestine – and things really become interesting in the large intestines, when your gut bacteria get to have their dinner.
The large intestines are home to billions of bacteria – and fibre is their food.
It’s a bit like a brewery down there, admittedly one you wouldn’t want a pint from, where bacteria are fermenting fibre to make a whole load of chemicals.
This includes short-chain fatty acids, which are absorbed and have effects throughout the body.
“We have this organ set up to digest fibre, which a lot of people just don’t use very much,” says Prof Cummings.
Why is this relevant now?
The fact fibre and whole-grains and fruit and vegetables are healthy should not come as a surprise.
But there is concern people are turning their back on fibre, with the popularity of low-carb diets.
Prof Nita Forouhi, from the University of Cambridge, says: “We need to take serious note of this study.
“Its findings do imply that, though increasingly popular in the community at large, any dietary regimes that recommend very low-carbohydrate diets should consider the opportunity cost of missing out on fibre from whole-grains.
“This research confirms that fibre and whole-grain intakes are clearly important for longer term health.”
The study has been done to help the World Health Organization come up with official guidelines for how much fibre people should be eating to boost health and they are expected next year.
From the mid-seventies to the mid-eighties, white bread fell while brown and wholemeal rose.
Since then, white bread sales have continued to fall, but brown and wholemeal bread sales have been falling for most of that period, although at a slower rate.
So it looks as if while overall demand for bread has been falling, a higher proportion of bread sold has been higher fibre.
Whole wheat pasta has made less of an impact on sales than higher fibre breads, with a survey for the British Journal of Nutrition finding that pasta accounted for less than 1% of the occasions on which people were consuming whole grains.
Well nothing much more to be said other than going vegan.
I had to look twice at this but it wasn’t April 1st and it appeared to be a serious article. It’s from the BBC website.
Will say no more. You have a read of it.
Climate change: Will insect-eating dogs help?
By Roger Harrabin, BBC environment analyst
10th January, 2019
Do you fret that your pet pooch is blamed by environmentalists for turning rainforests into poo in the park?
Have no fear – you can now fatten Fido on black soldier flies instead of Brazilian beef.
A pet food manufacturer now claims that 40% of its new product is made from soldier flies.
It’s one of many firms hoping to cash in on the backlash against beef by people concerned that the cattle are fed on soya.
These soya plantations are responsible for the release of greenhouse gases in significant quantities.
Is it good for the dog?
The key question is whether a diet of 40% soldier flies meets the nutritional needs of your beloved canine.
We put the question to a pet diet expert at the Royal Veterinary College, Aarti Kathrani. Her conclusion was a cautious “yes”.
“Insects can be a very useful source of protein,” she told us. “More studies are needed to show how much of these nutrients can actually be absorbed by a dog’s body – but some studies suggest that insects can provide nutrients for dogs.”
Does it help the climate if dogs eat flies?
At first sight it seems obvious that feeding your dog meaty food is bad for the environment. The link between humans eating meat and the allied emissions of CO2 and methane is well established – and pets are estimated to eat 20% of global meat.
It’s also true that flies produce protein much more efficiently than cows – using a small percentage of the water and land.
But actually the analysis is more subtle than that – because as societies become more wealthy, people often turn to muscle meat and reject the animal’s offal.
That offal is just as nutritious – and it gets made into pet food. That means that dog food is just as sustainable – or unsustainable – as humans eating meat.
In fact, if dogs were weaned off meat and on to insects, the industry would have to find another purpose for the offal. More sausage, perhaps? Or more humans eating insect protein. Or more going vegan?
Could cat food be made out of insects, too?
Dogs are omnivores – they eat more or less anything. Cats are much more choosy, because they can’t make an essential amino acid, taurine. They find it instead in meat and fish.
But Dr Kathrani says studies show that insects do contain taurine, so it’s possible that insects could also form a useful part of the moggie diet.
The new product is from Yora, a UK start-up. The insect grubs are fed on food waste in the Netherlands.
There are several competitors which also produce pet food incorporating fly protein. They include Insectdog, Entomapetfood, Chippin and Wilderharrier.
Now I have heard of some strange things but in essence this does make very good sense.
The owner of a dry-cleaning shop got a surprise recently when he heard crying and mewing from the back of one of his machines. Fortunately, this on-the-ball dry-cleaner called an animal rescue squad who rescued the four small kittens and reunited them with their mother.
According to the BBC , the dry cleaning shop where the kittens were found is located in Forest Gate, a residential suburb of London. The shop owner called animal rescuers from the Celia Hammond Animal Trust, a local animal rescue center, to help identify the source of the sounds.
Rescuers dismantled the tumble dryer where the noises were coming from and found four small ginger kittens inside. They also located the kittens’ mother when they noticed a distressed cat pacing outside the shop.
The shop owner told rescuers that a nearby resident had moved and left the pregnant cat behind. That poor distressed mama clearly needed a warm, dry place to give birth and she found it inside the dry-cleaning tumble machine.
One of the animal rescuers noted on their Facebook page that the kittens were in bad shape when they were found, “[w]hen we picked them up they were filthy, covered in grease and dirt and had been breathing carbon tetrachloride fumes since they were born in the back of the machine.”
Thankfully, the kittens and their mother are now being well cared for in a foster home.
One might ponder about the kittens having a clean start to their young lives! (Sorry!)
Yesterday, a wonderful number of readers ‘Liked’ my set of photographs on the theme of being a wildlife photographer. Thus it was providential, when deliberating on what to write for today’s post, to see that George Monbiot had published an article covering his recent interview with Sir David.
Before republishing that interview, let’s take a look at the man; Sir David that is!
Wikipedia has a comprehensive and fulsome description of him, that opens, thus:
He is best known for writing and presenting the nine Life series, in conjunction with the BBC Natural History Unit, which collectively form a comprehensive survey of animal and plant life on the planet. He is also a former senior manager at the BBC, having served as controller of BBC Two and director of programming for BBC Television in the 1960s and 1970s. He is the only person to have won BAFTAs for programmes in each of black and white, colour, HD, and 3D.
From across YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, we’ve taken your comments during #AttenboroughWeek and made this video as a thank you to everyone who got involved. Click on the annotations to see each of the clips in full.
My interview, in his 90th year, with Sir David Attenborough
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 23rd January 2016
You cannot meet David Attenborough without reflecting on the lottery of life. He bounces into the room unaccompanied, a little stiff in the lower back perhaps, but otherwise breezy and lithe. He is sound in wind and limb, vision and hearing, his eyes sparkle, his face is scarcely rumpled by time. Yet in three months he will celebrate his 90th birthday.
While other people’s worlds tend to shrink with age, his seems to expand. His curiousity ranges as widely as ever. His ability to understand and assimilate new information seems unabated. “Oh, I forget things,” he claims. When I press him for examples, he tells me, “Well, where I put my glasses, I had them about three minutes ago and they have simply evaporated, they’ve dematerialised. Oh yeah, and I forget engagements.”
But these, surely, are afflictions suffered by anyone immersed in the world of ideas. He has no diffulty remembering the things that fascinate him. When I ask him about his new project, his body bundles up with excitement.
“Luminous earthworms! Did you know about luminous earthworms? Aaah, aaah, yes, very interesting. I’m doing a thing on bioluminescence … and with a little research we discovered that there are earthworms in France that are luminous – in the earth! Why? Yes, why?! Well at the moment I am just thinking about it. As you well know there’s a gene for luminosity and it’s very widespread, and so you would like to suppose that it has some antiquity. So maybe luminosity was a by-product of digestive processes or energy processes or something.
“And if it is, the exciting thing is – what about all those graptolites, what if they were luminous?! In which case, now you suddenly realise that trilobites have bloody good eyes, so maybe they were there too! Wow!” (Graptolites and trilobites are long-extinct marine animals).
I mention his latest film, which will air on Sunday, about the excavation and reconstruction of the skeletons of Titanosaurs, the biggest terrestrial animals known to have walked the Earth. Why, I ask, do dinosaurs exert such a grip, especially on the minds of children?
“Partly because nearly all the adults have got it wrong. It’s one of the easiest subjects for a kid – or it was when I was a kid – for you to expose your parents, because you had just read the new cigarette card and there was a name there, a polysyllabic name, your parents had never heard of.”
And there he still was, I realised, the boy with his cigarette cards, his excitement about creatures that lived many millions of years ago undimmed by the passage of mere decades.
So this is what must have happened. On one of his early expeditions through a remote tract of rainforest, he stumbled across the elixir of life. He has been hoarding it ever since and surreptitiously sipping a little every day. Either that, or he is simply the luckiest man alive: fit, bright, relevant, in love with life, the last man standing.
He has the decency to be aware of his luck. “People sitting in corners doing nothing aren’t there because they want to sit in the corner doing nothing. They would much rather be doing [things]. And I am lucky enough to be able to do them. It would be very ungrateful to have that facility and not use it.” He has, of course, no intention of retiring.
There is only one lifeform he is reluctant to discuss, the scientific curiosity known as Sir David Attenborough. He created a powerful sense, when talking, of intimacy and candour, leaning in, holding my gaze, twinkling and gurning, speaking in his confidential whisper. But when I came to read the transcript of our interview I found that what had felt like frank confession was nothing of the kind. What he said with his body bore no relation to what he said with his words.
I pressed him several times on an issue with which I have long been struggling. How do those of us who love the natural world cope with its loss? He must have seen more than his fair share of devastation.
“Oh yes, of course. You go to Borneo and see oil palms everywhere where there was forest. You see people everywhere where there weren’t people.”
“And how does it affect you, seeing those changes?”
“Well you feel apprehensive for the future, of course you do.”
“So how do you cope?”
“I don’t have a rosy view of life, of the future, I look at my grandchildren and think ‘what are they going to have to deal with?’, of course I do. How could you not?”
But what about the emotional impact? Does he not get depressed? Does he have a mechanism for avoiding depression? He answered by bouncing the issue onto someone else.
“I once asked exactly the same question of Peter Scott [the great British conservationist, who died in 1989]. And he said, ‘Well you can only do what you can do.’ So what I do is what I can, but I wish to goodness I had done a tenth of what Peter did.”
While his self-deprecation is charming, it also seems defensive. I pictured those two quintessentially English men stroking their chins and repeating “you can only do what you can do” to each other, and thought of a scene in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. An army captain pays a call on one of his men, who is lying in bed, nonchalently reading a book. “What’s all the trouble, then?”. “Bitten, sir. During the night”. “Hmm. Whole leg gone, eh … Any idea how it happened?”. “None whatsoever. Complete mystery to me. Woke up just now, one sock too many.” Monty Python made their television debut on BBC2, commissioned by the controller at the time, a certain David Attenborough.
When talking in general terms, he uses the word “I”. When asked to talk about his feelings, he says “you”. Some of this is perhaps generational: it was once considered vulgar to discuss such matters. But perhaps his great fame has also obliged him to develop a carapace. I asked whether his public life has blurred the boundaries of his private self.
“There has always been the private and the public thing in you, in everybody”, he replies. “You are different things to different people, to your children, to your television producer.”
Can he go anywhere in public without being mobbed?
“I have to confess the ubiquity of the selfie is, er – On occasion when they say ‘do you mind’, I say ‘well, I am off duty at the moment’, and they say ‘oh are you?’, by which time I’m three yards down the road. But I do have to remember that they are the people who … listen to me, you know, and so you try not to be rude.”
I asked him if he ever gets lonely. His wife, Jane Oriel, died almost 20 years ago.
“Hmm? Oh. My daughter lives in the same house as me now and has done for many years. So once a day I see her, she runs my business affairs and, you know, I’m very lucky.”
He is just as discreet about the politics surrounding his work. On the day I met him, the controller of BBC2 and BBC4, Kim Shillinglaw, lost her post. He was plainly delighted, chuckling and winking and grinning when he asked me whether I had read that morning’s news. But he was careful to say nothing quotable. Television producers I know expressed intense frustration at her instant and unexplained dismissal of programmes they proposed on environmental themes.
But the problem, as I perceive it, is much wider than that: has there not been a systemic failure by television to cover the great crisis of our age: the gradual collapse of the Earth’s living systems?
“I am absolutely certain that the general public at large is more aware of the natural world than it was even before the industrial revolution,” he replies, “and that people are well informed about not only what the world contains but the processes that go on. Television has made a contribution to that. … I greatly regret the fact that there are no or very few regular – ”
He stops himself, and plunges into a more general discussion of scheduling. Surely, I persist, there’s a real problem here? Entire years have passed without a single substantial programme on environmental issues.
“Well,” he says, more crisply than at any other time in the interview, “you’ll have to take that up with the controllers.”
I suggest that his own interest in the state of the world appears to have intensified in recent years.
“That’s not an interest. I wish I didn’t have it. I wish there was no need to have it. It’s not an interest, it’s an obligation.”
But he has surely been more prominent as an environmental voice in the past twenty years than he was before?
“Well yeah, and that is very simple in that I have been in the BBC all my working life, practically, and you knew very well … that if you said something, just because you are on the damn box people thought it was true and you’d better be bloody well sure that it is true.”
(I used to curse this reticence, willing him to get off the fence and denounce the destruction of all he loved.)
He explains that his views on climate change crystallised when he attended a lecture – he could tell me when it was if he had his diary to hand – by the president of the US National Academy of Sciences, Ralph Cicerone. After that, he made two programmes, called Are We Changing Planet Earth? and Can We Save Planet Earth?
Attenborough is not just a master of the art of television, but also one of the medium’s pioneers, producing programmes almost from its launch in this country, and guiding the development of some of its treasured strands, first as controller of BBC2 (from 1965 to 1969), and then as the BBC’s director of programmes (until 1973). Has he helped to create a monster?
“Well it depends how you define a monster. And are all monsters malign?”
Has it not encouraged us to be more sedentary, I ask: to spend less time engaging with the world about us? He laughs and winks: “And we gave up sitting in pubs for three or four hours a day! How awful!”. Would he lay any ills at the door of television? “Oh yes, of course. Adipose tissue.” Anything else? “What you might call visual chewing gum, in that it stops you thinking about anything else. But then I feel that about music. I mean I cannot understand how people want to go round with -” he mimes a pair of headphones and shifts the conversation onto a safer subject.
I was packing my things after saying goodbye when suddenly he sprang back into the room, this time wearing his glasses and holding a small leather filofax. “I’ve found the details of that lecture by Ralph Cicerone. I thought you’d want to know.” He showed me the address and the date: 2004. The old scientific habit – record your facts, check your facts – had not deserted him. As I marvelled at his recollection that he had left something hanging, and his determination to resolve it, this remarkable specimen of life on earth skipped away to his next appointment.
So let me continue on a little more by offering a short clip of Sir David as millions will have seen him from the wonderful animal partnerships BBC series.
Then it’s only natural for this blog to offer this item:
Then I am going to close today’s post by presenting a video that was first shown in this place back in September 2012.
If you need a reminder of how beautiful our planet is (and I’m sure the majority of LfD readers don’t require that reminder) then go back and watch David Attenborough’s video and voice-over to the song What a Wonderful World. This short but very compelling video shows why the planet is so worth protecting. Enjoy!
So make a diary note to celebrate Sir David’s 90th birthday on May 8th.
Once again, the power of unanticipated consequences.
I find it easy to lose sight of recent world events, for every new day seems to bring some new challenge to batter one’s emotions.
So a news item on the BBC website last Friday brought back into focus the debt challenges for Greece, or more pertinently, the Greek people, or even more precisely, Greek dogs.
Here’s what I read:
A million stray dogs ‘victims of Greek debt crisis’
3 October 2015 Last updated at 07:10 BST
Among the many problems brought on by the Greek debt crisis is a surging population of stray dogs.
Animal charities say there are now more than a million strays in Greece because people are simply abandoning pets they can no longer afford to keep.
There are fears it could lead to the spread of disease if the problem is not tackled soon, as Emilia Papadopoulos reports.
Emilia’s video report was uploaded to YouTube, thus allowing me to share the sad situation with you.
A quick search online found the following photograph.
That sad picture came from the ANSAmed website, that included a fuller report on the situation. That report ending:
According to the deputy mayor of Athens, Angelos Antonopoulos, who is also in charge of environmental issues, city officials in Athens picked up 457 dogs in the capital’s streets last year, providing medical treatment for 305 of them.
Antonopoulos, a vet by profession, admits that the number of cases of abandoned domestic animals – dogs in particular – has risen alarmingly because of the economic crisis, but says that a new trend is emerging for the same reason. Indeed, an increasing number of people who want to own a dog are choosing to adopt strays from the city’s doghouse rather than buying one from a pet shop or from dog-breeders. “People are becoming increasingly aware of the problem,” Antonopoulos says, providing a ray of hope for his four-legged patients. (ANSAmed).
Finally, I came across what appears to be a Greek charity, Stray.gr, and I’m going to contact them to see if readers of Learning from Dogs who wish to donate, can do so. Will report back.
The history of power, control, those who wield it, and where it has taken us all.
There is a real pain in me as I start into today’s post. A pain that comes from agonising over whether or not to write in this vein. A pain that has its roots in me being forced to accept that global politics, money and power-plays are much worse than I ever wanted to believe.
What, you must be asking, has got me plunging so far into this dark place? When just twenty-four hours ago I was writing of peace, calm and deep meditation?
Simply a film!
A film that was uploaded by the BBC a few days ago exclusively on to their BBC iPlayer platform.
The film is called Bitter Lake and here’s the trailer.
The full film is 2 hours, 20 minutes long. (But note that the film is age-restricted for obvious reasons.)
I can’t encourage you to watch it. For if you do, the world may never seem the same to you.
But Jeannie and I did watch it and think it should be shared widely. And, yes, it has changed the world for us.
Here’s how it is described by Adam Curtis and the BBC.
Published on Jan 26, 2015
Shown exclusively on the BBC iPlayer service in the UK
This upload is for those outside of the UK
Politicians used to have the confidence to tell us stories that made sense of the chaos of world events.
But now there are no big stories and politicians react randomly to every new crisis – leaving us bewildered and disorientated.
And journalism – that used to tell a grand, unfurling narrative – now also just relays disjointed and often wildly contradictory fragments of information.
Events come and go like waves of a fever. We – and the journalists – live in a state of continual delirium, constantly waiting for the next news event to loom out of the fog – and then disappear again, unexplained.
And the formats – in news and documentaries – have become so rigid and repetitive that the audiences never really look at them.
In the face of this people retreat from journalism and politics. They turn away into their own worlds, and the stories they and their friends tell each other.
I think this is wrong, sad, and bad for democracy – because it means the politicians become more and more unaccountable.
I have made a film that tries to respond to this in two ways.
It tells a big story about why the stories we are told today have stopped making sense.
But it is also an experiment in a new way of reporting the world. To do this I’ve used techniques that you wouldn’t normally associate with TV journalism. My aim is to make something more emotional and involving – so it reconnects and feels more real.
BBC iPlayer has given me the opportunity to do this – because it isn’t restrained by the rigid formats and schedules of network television. It’s a place you can go to experiment and try out new ideas.
It is also liberating – both because things can be any length, and also because it allows the audience to watch the films in different ways.
The film is called Bitter Lake. It is a bit of an epic – it’s two hours twenty minutes long.
It tells a big historical narrative that interweaves America, Britain, Russia and Saudi Arabia. It shows how politicians in the west lost confidence – and began to simplify the stories they told. It explains why this happened – because they increasingly gave their power away to other forces, above all global finance.
But there is one other country at the center of the film.
This is because Afghanistan is the place that has repeatedly confronted politicians, as their power declines, with the terrible truth – that they cannot understand what is going on any longer. Let alone control it.
The film shows in detail how all the foreigners who went to Afghanistan created an almost totally fictional version of the country in their minds.
They couldn’t see the complex reality that was in front of them – because the stories they had been told about the world had become so simplified that they lacked the perceptual apparatus to see reality any longer.
And this blindness led to a terrible disaster – support for a blatantly undemocratic government, wholesale financial corruption and thousands of needless deaths.
A horrific scandal that we, in our disconnected bubble here in Britain, seem hardly aware of. And even if we are – it is dismissed as being just too complex to understand.
But it is important to try and understand what happened. And the way to do that is to try and tell a new kind of story. One that doesn’t deny the complexity and reduce it to a meaningless fable of good battling evil – but instead really tries to makes sense of it.
I have got hold of the unedited rushes of almost everything the BBC has ever shot in Afghanistan. It is thousands of hours – some of it is very dull, but large parts of it are extraordinary. Shots that record amazing moments, but also others that are touching, funny and sometimes very odd.
These complicated, fragmentary and emotional images evoke the chaos of real experience. And out of them I have tried to build a different and more emotional way of depicting what really happened in Afghanistan.
A counterpoint to the thin, narrow and increasingly destructive stories told by those in power today.
And I must include this comment from the relevant page on BBC Blogs:
Quite simply one of the best films I’ve ever watched. The theme and content made so many connections linking events of the last 40 years. It’s perhaps time to reflect on power ,control and those who wield it . The official narrative is not our narrative , we have a choice to decide what we believe . Time to reflect and make that choice.
Thanks for such an informing film.